Twenty-five years ago, the campus protests that rocked colleges across the country during the 1960s and early 1970s had all but ended, though distrust and animosity between students and administrators lingered.
So did the desire for student power, and by the 1975-1976 school year, students were willing to "use the opportunity to be at the table, rather than turn the table over," says David H. Nevins. In August 1975, he became the first student representative appointed to the State College Board of Trustees.
Now Nevins - a marketing and public affairs professional in Hunt Valley - is a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, helping to set policy for current students. He and other student pioneers recall their efforts more than a quarter-century ago to earn spots on the boards that were in charge of the state's public colleges and universities.
For Nevins, the key year was 1975, when he was 20 and president of the student government association at what was then Towson State College. He recalls that the now-defunct State College Board of Trustees - the governing body for Bowie, Coppin, Frostburg, Salisbury and Towson state colleges and the University of Baltimore - wasn't paying attention to student concerns and opinions.
"A couple of us felt it would be a brilliant idea to see if we could get a voting student member on our Board of Trustees," he recalls.
The students initiated a successful lobbying effort, persuading the Maryland General Assembly to do just that. One of the Towson students active in getting a student on the board would become Nevins' successor, Ann Marie Doory, who now represents Baltimore in the state House of Delegates.
Nevins says students found virtually no support for student membership on the board among the leadership in higher education.
"They suggested students didn't have enough experience, had conflicts of interest. That never proved to be true."
Students at the University of Maryland, College Park met similar opposition from the administration when they successfully lobbied the General Assembly in 1974 for two voting student members on the University of Maryland Board of Regents.
David S. Iannucci, now Maryland's secretary of business and economic development, was a senior at the university and one of the leaders of the students' lobbying efforts. He recalls that students were particularly upset by the board's censorship of student publications, its refusal to approve the use of student fees to fund the Gay Student Alliance, and the fact that tuition was being raised with "unnecessary regularity."
Judith Sachwald, now the director of the state's Division of Parole and Probation, was also a student at College Park who lobbied for a student member on the board.
Sachwald became the first female student member on the Board of Regents in 1975. "There was not great communication between campus administrators and students," she recalls. "Students felt they weren't being listened to. A whole bunch of us persuaded the legislature that there ought to be a student on the board."
Iannucci recalls, "It was a time of great polarization between the generations and the Board of Regents and students. We went to the General Assembly because students felt stymied by the Board of Regents. Eighteen-year-olds had recently been given the right to vote, and the legislature took that voting bloc more seriously."
Iannucci says the legislation putting two voting members on the Board of Regents was virtually unprecedented nationally.
Bill Connelly, then a second-year law student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and now a U.S. magistrate judge for the District of Maryland, was one of the first two student representatives appointed to the Board of Regents. He says that he tried to open the lines of communication between the various campuses in the university system, as well as between the regents and students.
"I thought it was important to explain to students why things were being done, as well as bring the students' views to the board."
Connelly says that he was mindful of being a trailblazer. "If you're the first person to do something, it's important to make sure you're not the last person to do it."
Nevins says he tried to represent student views without alienating the other members of the board.
"There was not the natural respect and regard for student involvement that there is today. ... I guess I did think at times we were viewed as window dressing. `Yeah, OK, you're now on the board, but if there's something important, we'll tell you what to do and how to vote.'"
Nevins says he intended "not to rock the boat." But when his first vote was the only "no" on a plan to reorganize the state college system, board members - who liked to work by consensus - probably felt they had a troublemaker in their midst, he says with a laugh.